Sunday, April 24, 2011


I woke up this Easter Sunday irritated by academia. I'm thinking specifically about how part of the reaction to my quest to get a shot at a tenure track job last year turned toward ridicule: some of my esteemed colleagues ridiculed me for my column in East Village Magazine, a 35-year-old "neighborhood newsletter" for which I've been providing back-page prose for four years. How embarrassingly naive and parochial of me to assert that my writing for EVM was something to be proud of, something to offer up to my colleagues as evidence of my value for their precious position. How bush-league of me to point out that EVM has more readers than most literary magazines -- though my readers, who've been avid and attentive, have far less lofty pedigrees than academia demands. How incompletely professionalized and myopically amateur I was, to ask the publisher of EVM, Gary Custer, to write me letter of recommendation. My friends have endured my ruminations on this matter repeatedly over the last year, and contrary to what some of them think, I don't particularly care, nor did I take my stab at tenure naively. It was aggressive, at heart, and I'm not very surprised about the results. As I recently told the ultimately successful candidate for the position, I tried to push my colleagues into acting like another species, as if a giraffe could be an octopus.

Also, I am long in the tooth. Ted and I heard the phrase on NPR this morning, and Ted said it refers to old lions, whose teeth lengthen with the years. I am then a toothy old lioness, crabby and demanding and still periodically driven by hopes new and old. I'm not a writer for the young; my concerns are neither glamorous nor hip. I'm dreading getting old and I'm preternaturally observant of my body's varied declines. I like knowing something about my community from 30 years of it. I enjoy thinking about things that happened at the halfway point of the last century. I'm doing more remembering past adventures than generating new ones.
I've occasionally thought that my indirections and inward-looking observations make ripe fruit for parody. I could parody my writing myself, before some young wag beats me to it. Not that there are many young wags left in Flint who'd notice.

Anyway, this is a long introduction to savoring my freedom. For about the 45th time, I'm embarking on writing my next column, and it strikes me that I really am free to write whatever I want. What does it matter? There is nothing to stop me from being whoever I am on the page, and today this carbonating freedom pleases me immensely. We're making mimosas later, using our new juicer. The finches are gold again; maybe we can sit out on the porch. I wonder where the day will take me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This is where I used to...

A peril of being in a place for a long of my themes, day after this odd sense of needing meaning from the architectures I've inhabited year after year. There's a displacement, a recurring mild angst I've been feeling lately when I walk by a place and I think, "my God, I've been walking by this for 30 years."

Walking into the Rec Center last night in the grace of 6 p.m. April daylight, I looked up at the edifice of the Harding Mott building and thought, hmm, is this a beautiful enough building for me? Is it "in" me after all these years? In fact it feels unremarkable, if imposing -- it's a building I walk toward and into time and again and don't feel much of anything. It doesn't lift me up: the predicament being that I have often, often felt ambivalent about myself and my life in the perimeters of this architecture. Wouldn't anyone? Ah, thus it is, isn't it? Does the architecture shape us, or is it we who give the walls and sweeps of brick and mortar meaning? Could a sad and preoccupied woman be unmoved by the arches of Grace Cathedral, for example, a place I've gone with my brother in SF and never failed to be moved?

I did once write a poem about my first husband picking me up at the Harding Mott building after work called "Walking Toward You, October Thursday," and I like that poem. I realize as I remember that poem, a romantic one in which I wanted him to see me smiling as I got to him, that I was in my 30s then and already feeling the lurking threats of domestic predictability, the threat of deadness, the yearning for something special never to end. It was a moment, there in the curving concrete blocks of the Harding Mott building.

And last night, walking toward my yoga class, where I tread in with my yellow ID card and always say hi to the girls behind the counter, and they always say "Have a good workout!" I felt something akin to happiness -- a pleasure in a repeated routine of walking somewhere I always walk and seeing people who always say the same thing to me and of course, knowing that in the unglamorous basement room of the Rec Center I'll be discovering some new muscle, some new alignment, some new challenge, and that when I come out I'll feel...GOOD.

That room always delivers something. Last night Rachelle had us doing a particularly painful stretch, where we pressed our shins backwards against the wall and then tried to straighten up so that our backs and shoulders also touched the wall. I couldn't come close. When she saw us struggling with it she almost yelled, "you've had a lot worse pain than this, people, you've lost family members, you've lost pets, you've had a lot worse pain than this..." I'm smiling as I remember that now. What's a little muscle stretch, what's a pain, even a stretch that made me want to scream? We've all lost shitloads. Take it, she seemed to say, just take it. We've all had pain, pain, pain.

So tonight it happened again. Vickie and I walked by my old house on Seventh Street, the place I lived with my first husband for 15 years. So much happened there -- so many hopes and dreams resided with us there, climbed the stairs every night with us, slept with me, fed me. It was a dangerous place to go tonight. I felt my heart and my throat clench, looking at that house. I couldn't stop looking. It seems so long ago -- ten year now since I moved out on a mild May weekend. There is where I used to live. This is where I used to dream a certain dream, This is where I was thirty, forty, fifty. This is where I stopped being young. This is where I planted morning glories along the back wall and kept a triangular herb garden. This is where I wrote my novel. This is where I wrestled with many demons. This is where I stopped loving my life. This is where I stopped loving that dream. This is where I gave up that dream.

We turned around and walked away from the house. I let Vickie talk about whatever she wanted to talk about. She liked another house, the big one at the dead end. I said I used to know the guy who lived there. It seemed like there were fewer trees, as if the life cycle was up all along the street. One old house was completely gone, the bare lot startling and freshly leveled. I felt sort of hungry, an ache I didn't want to touch, like my thigh screaming against the wall last night. I've had worse pain than that. Take it, just take it.

Eventually we got back onto Avon Street and crossed the little bridge over Gilkey Creek and strode through the park back onto the side I live on now. It was safer being up there, where I have another life, another dream. It used to be when I walked over here I felt unease -- the houses were grander and I felt small and unfulfilled. Now I think I deserve to live over here, where I have matured, where I am seasoned like these solid old domiciles. It's odd the vanities and cravings architecture can satisfy. It's taken me awhile to get here, barely a quarter mile from where I used to live, and I feel something mostly good. I climb the stairs up to bed every night and climb the stairs down in the morning to a kitchen full of light. In my familiar architectures, those that continually echo a nagging past and those that yield beauty and comfort, I'm continually adjusting myself, as in yoga class -- a woman both the same and continually new.